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The World Wrestling Federation’s (now WWE) "Macho Man" Randy Savage was at the top of his game during the sport’s golden era in the 1980s and early 1990s. Known for his signature phrase ("Oooh yeah"), his ring attire (cowboy hat, flashy glasses and tassels), his signature move (double axe handle from the top rope*) and his unlikely entrance song ("Pomp and Circumstance"), Macho Man was one of the most colourful and adored wrestlers on the circuit.
In Nathaniel G. Moore’s fifth book, Savage 1986 – 2011, protagonist Nate idolizes Savage's swagger and showmanship, closely following the wrestler's career from an early age. Emerging into adulthood, Nate is unable, or unwilling, to outgrow his fascination of wrestling like his peers. Rather, he finds comfort in perceived parallels in his own life and that of Randy Savages' fictional public persona.
For one, Nate equates his close boyhood friendship with neighbour and fellow student Andrew to Savage’s close alliance, known as the Mega Powers, with wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan. Furthermore, after both relationships are severed, Nate begins to perceive the world as an outsider: an experience he aligns with Savage’s narrative transformation from adored hero to isolated villain in the ring.
In keeping with this theme, Savage 1986 - 2011 begins with Nate’s very first live wrestling match and ends with Randy Savage’s death 25 years later.
Raised in the insular neighbourhood of Leaside in Toronto, Nate’s seemingly idyllic upbringing and typical nuclear family unit begins to unravel at the seams after his father loses his job. The dynamic between father and son becomes increasingly confrontational and even violent at times as Nate begins to struggle with what becomes a battle with mental illness.
With Nate’s sister Holly away at university, his parent’s on the brink of divorce and his friend Andrew growing increasingly more distant, Nate finds himself totally isolated.
Nate’s reliance on his friendship with Andrew, which evolved from a shared interest in hockey and wrestling as boys to a sexual one in their teens, made him extremely vulnerable when it ended. Instigated by Andrew, we later learn that Nate may have been manipulated into this sexual dynamic for fear that his failure to submit would jeopardize his only friendship. And so when Andrew abandons him for a new set of friends, Nate loses his only outlet -- if an unhealthy one -- from his family issues.
Nate soon enters years of a purgatory-like existence, while he comes to terms with his relationship with Andrew, his mental health and his abandonment issues with his family.
Written in lilting poetic prose, the narrative provides a startlingly accurate portrait of young adulthood.
Unlike a typical structure and adding to the realism, the narrative weaves between specific events and the less-reliable interior thoughts and feelings of its protagonist. At times, one could get a bit lost in abstract passages that, while beautifully worded, could be excessive. The unusually heavy reliance on footnotes to introduce important developments also thwarts the cadence; at times frustrating when their content could easily have been incorporated into the narrative to more powerful affect.
And yet these apparent shortcomings also serve to further re-enforce an authenticity to the story.
The descriptive footnotes and distracted quality to the narrative contain an intriguing realism that continues to make one question whether or not the story is in fact fictional. Along with the protagonist’s shared name with the author and the aforementioned narrative decisions, more curious still, the cover image is a photograph of the author as a young man.
This ambiguity between reality and fiction provides a depth to the story and keeps you engaged in Nate’s fate right to the end. As in the wrestling world, we become invested in the narrative, never truly knowing which elements were engineered and which were real.
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Kathleen Yamazaki is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.
*Editor's note: some Macho Man aficionados would argue his finishing move, the flying/diving elbow drop, is his most famous move.
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